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ASLA 2019 Professional General Design Honor Award. Glenstone, Potomac, Maryland. PWP Landscape Architecture >

What Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Means to ASLA

This year, two members from ASLA’s Diversity Summit community offer the following message to the broader ASLA member community. It is one that has inspired ASLA’s 2020 celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month

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Left: Masako Ikegami, ASLA, SWA Group. Right: Gloria Lau, ALSA, Stantec)

My name is Masako Ikegami, and together with my friend, Gloria Lau—we welcome you. ‘You’ might be a member of the ASLA, an ally of the AAPI community, and of course, AAPI members of the profession of landscape architecture.

We recognize that the term AAPI represents a vast diversity of backgrounds. ‘Diversity of backgrounds’ is a great understatement when you consider the multitude of hyphenated identities, the numerous stories of migration, and the spectrum of ethnic and cultural heritages that belong to our unique story. We have volumes to share about who we are—our individual stories of arrival—to America, to ourselves, and to the profession.

Our aim is to create a platform for ASLA to share and listen—about current research, scholarships, mentorship opportunities, historical and contemporary accomplishments in the profession, and most important of all, your voice.


About the term Asian American and Pacific Islander

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) identity is not monolithic. We are from East, South, and Southeast Asian diasporas, and our immigration history is both long and recent. The AAPI community spans all economic classes, gender identities, sexual orientations, religions, and abilities. We are diverse, unique, multi-generational, and multi-hyphenated. Our respective identities are just two facets of the 20 million in the AAPI community


Who are we and how do we relate to the AAPI community?

Gloria: My father was born in Guangdong, China and my mother is Chinese-Indian from Kolkata, India. I grew up in Hong Kong while it was a British colony and immigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area when I was fourteen. My identity spans nationalities, cultures, and ethnicities. I am at once an American, a Hong Konger, a Californian, and currently a New Yorker. My Chinese-American identity is ever-evolving, but my experience, culture, and family ground my values as a person and as a designer.

For me, design is both professional and personal. Landscape architecture centers on humans and the environment, to improve quality of life and reduce further harms and impacts. In a profession that values site-specific context, I aim to honor the unique experience of individuals and communities in order to create a sense of place. By embracing my Asian-American identity, which is often “othered,” I allow myself to be more aware and empathetic to different voices and critical of my design process.

Masako: My identity as a member of the Asian-American diaspora emerged in high school as I found myself drawn to conversations around diversity and identity. I was raised in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. for the most part, with short stints in Boston, Yokohama, and Northern Japan. You can say I am one nationality with feet in two cultures, or you can say I am more of one background than the other—it depends on your perspective! [It wasn’t until] I could declare to my friends, family, and curious minds that I don’t choose or privilege one part of my background —that I am all—[that] I really came to embrace the richness of my multi-hyphenate identity.

To me, landscape architecture is an exciting field because we shape our community’s relationship to nature, and it is a cultural expression. I find satisfaction in telling the story of how design impacts our daily lives for the better. Through ASLA’s celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Gloria and I wanted to share our mutual admiration for each other, our backgrounds, and the contributions of the greater AAPI community.


A Space for AAPI

Gloria: As one of the first two Asian-American participants at the ASLA Diversity Summit, I am hyper-aware that I am not representative of the more than 20 sub-groups within our community. At the same time, I realize I have a voice. I hope that by contributing to ASLA AAPI Heritage Month, we can start creating a space for the community to share our experience, provide mentorship, and celebrate our achievements. There are definitely challenges in bringing such a diverse group together, but there is also strength in forming a coalition that embraces the differences. It is also our opportunity to advocate in solitary with other communities of color within our profession.

Masako: I couldn’t agree with you more. The many accomplishments of the AAPI community cannot be summarized easily, but we can highlight professionals who are in various stages of their careers to kick-off our efforts. My hope is that these efforts will help connect with professionals who would like to tell their take on landscape architecture. The personal and the professional are interlinked, and I am excited to be part of ASLA’s celebration.


About the Webinars

Gloria & Masako: Our initial canvassing of AAPI leaders and their passions have coincidentally centered around the topic of Chinatown—as a place, its identity, its historic emergence, and in many cases its decline.

Gloria: I have been to Chinatowns from San Francisco to Vancouver to Belgrade. It always amazed me how vast the Chinese diaspora is. Each Chinatown has its own characteristics, and they are always evolving, changed by the waves of immigration, local culture, and built environmental forces such as gentrification and new developments. I am excited to hear from Jenn Low and Ernest Wong about their own unique approaches and engagement with the communities.

Gloria & Masako: We are also excited that Cheeneng Yang, our fellow AAPI Diversity Summit participant, will be sharing information and resources about the Hmong culture and the Hmong Cultural Plaza at Phalen China Garden in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Learn more and register at Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Webinar Series.


About Masako Ikegami, ASLA
Masako Ikegami, ASLA, is an Associate in Business Development and Strategy at SWA Los Angeles. In her current capacity she leads public realm projects with cities and agencies that are looking to enhance their urban livability, environmental sustainability, and economic development. Ikegami holds a MLA from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and is a participant in the ASLA Diversity Summit.

About Gloria Lau, ASLA
Gloria Lau, ASLA, AICP, is a Senior Landscape Architect at Stantec New York office. Lau works at the intersection of urban landscape, resilient infrastructure, and equitable design. Her professional experience ranges from design of public spaces and green infrastructure to urban design and community engagement. She holds a MLA and MCP from University of Pennsylvania, is an Urban Design Forum Forefront Fellow, participant at the ASLA Diversity Summit, and part of the executive leadership of APA-NYM Diversity Committee.

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